CHOPIN: Etudes, Opp. 10 and 25 (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.554528)
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Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Complete Piano MusicVol. 2
Etudes Opp. 10 and 25
Fryderyk Chopin was born in Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, in 1810. Hisfather, Nicolas Chopin, was French by birth, but had been taken to Poland in1787, at the age of sixteen, working first as a clerk in a tobacco factory,before taking part in the Polish rising against the foreign domination of thecountry as an officer in the National Guard. After the failure of this attempt,he was able to earn his living as a French tutor in various private families,and in 1806 he married a poor relation of his then employer, Count Skarbek.
Chopin was to inherit from his father a fierce sense of loyalty toPoland, a feeling that he fostered largely in self-imposed exile, since thegreater part of his career was to be spent in Paris. His early education,however, was in Warsaw, where his father had become a teacher at a newlyestablished school. He was able to develop his already precocious musicalabilities with piano lessons from the eccentric Adalbert Zywny, a violinistfrom Bohemia, who shared Nicolas Chopin's enthusiasm for Poland and was able toinculcate in his pupil a sound respect for the great composers of theeighteenth century. Chopin later took lessons from the director of the WarsawConservatory, Jozef Elsher, and entered the Conservatory as a student in 1826.
By then he had already developed his own individual style as a pianist and hadwritten, during the previous ten years, a number of pieces for the piano.
Warsaw offered a restricted environment for musical achievement,although Chopin was able to hear Hummel there in 1828 and the violinistPaganini in the following year. He had already acquired a considerable localreputation when in 1830 he set out for Vienna, where he was to pass the winterwith very little to show for it. An earlier visit to Vienna had arousedinterest, but this second visit, undertaken with a more serious purpose,produced nothing, and the following summer he set out for Paris, where he wasto spend much of the test of his life.
Chopin's attitude to Paris was at first ambivalent. As a provincial hefound much to shock him, while, at the same time, there was much to impress inthe splendour of the city and in the diversity of music there. He was to create a special place for himself as ateacher to some of the most distinguished families and as a performer in moreintimate social gatherings than the theatres and concert-halls where his crudercontemporary Franz Liszt could excel.
By 1837 Chopin hadembarked on a liaison with the writer George Sand, born Aurore Dupin, theestranged wife of Baron Dudevant, generally spending the summer at her countryestate at Nohant. The writer of 1838 was spent with her in Mallorca, where anattempt to battle against a high wind seriously affected his lungs, alreadyweakened by tuberculosis. Thereafter Chopin's relationship with George Sandtook a more conventional course, until the jealousies and rivalry of her twochildren led to a final quarrel in 1847. George Sand and Chopin were never tobe reconciled, and he died in Paris in 1849, his health having deterioratedconsiderably during the course of a visit to England and Scotland the yearbefore, when Paris was undergoing revolution.
As a composer Chopin'sachievement was remarkable. He perfected his own idiomatic style ofperformance, in which technical problems seemed not to exist, a style ofdelicate nuance and elegance. His music, suited to his manner of playing,showed considerable originality in its exploration of harmony and in itsexpansion of existing forms and creation of new ones, opening a world thatlater composers were to continue to develop.
The Etudes thatform Opus 10 were written between 1829 and 1832 and published in the followingyear with a dedication to Franz Liszt. They combine a serious technical purposewith music, making them very much more than mere pianistic exercises. Thethird, fourth and seventh of the set were written after Chopin's move to Paris,and the twelfth, the so-called Revolutionary Etude, is popularlysupposed to represent the composer's turbulent feelings when the news of the1831 rising in Warsaw against Russia reached him in Stuttgart, during hisjourney to Paris. There is no reason to accept the story, and the Etude wasprobably written a year earlier.
The first two Etudes,in C major and A minor, were written in the autumn of 1830, the former astudy in extended arpeggios and the latter allowing the right hand to cope withchords and a legato chromatic upper part. This is followed, in the publishedversion, by the E major and C sharp minor Etudes, completed in August,1832, the first a serene contrast to the second.
It is probable thatthe G flat major and E flat minor Etudes were written in the summer of1830. The first confines the right hand to the black keys of the piano, and thesecond presents a darker picture, in sombre chromatic colours. They arefollowed by an Etude in C major, written in Paris in the spring of 1832,a study involving the repetition of single notes with the thumb and firstfinger.
The next four Etudes,in F major, F minor, A flat and E flat, come from the late autumn of 1829,the brilliance of the first a contrast to the drama of the second, followed bya study in cross-rhythms and a study in arpeggiated chords. The last of theset, in C minor, brings its own well known drama, its technical difficultylying in the combination of a right-hand melody in octaves against the busymovement of the left hand.
The Etudes publishedin 1837 as Opus 25 were written during the preceding five years and dedicatedto the Countess Marie d'Agoult, the mistress of Liszt and a writer, under thepseudonym of Daniel Stern. The first, known as the Aeolian Harp becauseof its gentle arpeggios, was written in September, 1836, and is followed by anF minor study in cross-rhythms from the previous January and a third Etude
in F major from the same year, dealing with problems of ornamentation.
The fourth, fifth andsixth Etudes, in A minor, E minor and G sharp minor, were written between1832 and 1834. The first of these might suggest Paganini, while the secondoffers figuration that was to assume importance in the Romantic virtuoso pianorepertoire, with the G sharp minor Etude a study in right hand thirds.
The seventh Etude, inC sharp minor, was written in 1836, a lyrical respite, and is followed by Etudesin D flat, G flat and B minor, written between 1832 and 1834, studies insixths, in divided octaves and in octaves respectively. The G flat Etude isknown to many as the Butterfly, while the eleventh Etude, in Aminor, written in 1834, has earned the title The Winter Wind. The setends with a C minor Etude in arpeggios, an echo of the opening of Opus10.
Interpreting Chopin byIdil Biret
Although the romanticera in its music and its performances is not so far from our own time, forvarious reasons we seem to have distanced ourselves from it. As a consequence,often composers very different from one another like Chopin, Liszt, Schumannand Wagner are brought under the same title of Romantic Composers. In thiscontext it is quite normal to find Chopin and Liszt mentioned together ascomposers of similar style, while there are no two sound worlds as differentfrom one another as those of Chopin and Liszt. The conception of the pianosound that Chopin crea